Yahoo Up on Report of Possible Sale of Internet Business

Chatter Swirls Around Yahoo
Chatter Swirls Around Yahoo

By Anya George Tharakan and Liana B. Baker

Plans by Yahoo's board to consider selling its struggling Internet business sent the company's shares up more than 5 percent Wednesday, as investors cheered a potential new way to separate Yahoo's traditional services from its valuable investment in Chinese Web merchant Alibaba.

Yahoo's board will weigh a sale of the Internet business at a three-day board meeting starting on Wednesday, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer's attempts to revive the traditional business have born little fruit, and almost all of Yahoo's market capitalization of about $34 billion is ascribed to its stakes in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Holding Group (BABA) and Yahoo Japan Corp.

A separate Alibaba stake would be expected to be more highly valued by the market, but investors want to avoid a massive tax bill in the process. Selling the traditional business is seen as one way possibly to achieve that.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The big question is whether anyone would actually show up with a meaningful bid.%Broken out as a separate company, Yahoo's email, Yahoo and Tumblr web sites and mobile services could fetch between $2 billion and $8 billion, analysts and bankers said, many seeing $4 billion as the likely price.

If Yahoo sells off its traditional web business all that would be left, essentially, is the Alibaba and Yahoo Japan stakes.

"Realizing value is far from assured, however," Pivotal analyst Brian Wieser wrote in a note. "The big question is whether anyone would actually show up with a meaningful bid."

Interested bidders could range from private equity companies aiming to refocus Yahoo to technology companies eager for Yahoo's mobile and Web content, following the model of Verizon Communications (VZ) buying AOL.

The Wall Street Journal said potential bidders could include Verizon and IAC/InterActiveCorp. A source familiar with Verizon's thinking said currently there were no talks between the companies. IAC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Journal, which first reported that Yahoo might sell its Internet business, also reported Tuesday that the board meeting would discuss how to proceed with the spinoff of the company's 15 percent stake in Alibaba, worth more than $30 billion if held separately.

Yahoo's Internet business has been struggling to boost revenue from ad sales in the face of stiff competition from Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) Google and Facebook (FB).

According to a person familiar with the matter, activist investor Starboard Value is also disappointed in Yahoo's performance under Mayer and has lost confidence in the CEO. Starboard attributes the relatively low price of the Internet business to poor management of the division by Mayer and the Yahoo management team.

The company's emerging businesses, which Mayer calls Mavens -- mobile, video, native and social advertising -- have been the bright spot for the company.

"To me that would be most valuable to sell," said Ivan Feinseth, an analyst at Tigress Financial Partners.

"I think private equity would be interested in the Mavens businesses," he said.

Starboard asked Yahoo in November to drop plans to spin off its stake in Alibaba due to the tax concerns, and urged the company to sell its core search and display advertising businesses instead.

Yahoo (YHOO) shares were up 5.8 percent at $35.66 in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.

-Supantha Mukherjee contributed reporting.